Julia's Rome Blog: Date Line Rome

2010-09-09 00:00

Today I had the experience of a life time.

I and about 9 999 other people from around the world.

We got to wait in the sun in St Peter’s Square for about an hour slowly shuffling towards a line of metal detectors like some crazed conga line. Once through the metal detectors and inside the Holy of Holies, the Vatican, we got to surge past some very young, very nervous-looking Swiss guards towards one of the biggest auditoria I have ever seen.

In there, we joined a sweating, heaving mass of humanity that only God could love. And maybe the Pope too, since he was the reason we were all there, crammed up closer to each other than was comfortable.

It was an event that I believe some people look forward to all their lives, and then cherish for as long as they remain on earth. For me, going to a papal audience today was not a spiritual experience.

While I recognise it was a huge privilege, I cannot say I enjoyed it. I endured it. The crowds, the heat, and the dripping humidity were singularly unpleasant. However, it was clear that for many of the pilgrims present, it was a deeply meaningful and emotional experience.

The Holy Father and various cardinals welcomed and greeted groups from around the world in several languages: Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and some Slavic languages I could not recognise. A great thrill for members of our group was that he greeted and welcomed us at the start of his English language address.

He went on to say that he is looking forward to his visit to the UK in a week’s time, when he will meet both the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since the former is the descendant of Henry VIII who broke away from the Catholic Church, and Rowan Williams is the head of the church that he founded, it could prove to be a ticklishly sensitive situation for all concerned.

As I said, I do not share the fervour and dedication to Pope Benedict XVI of the many thousands who were present, I recognise and respect it. Perhaps that is the kind of spirit of which we need more in South Africa – recognition of, and respect for the things that others hold holy and dear.

In this regard, I bought some rosaries on St Peter’s Square and held them up for the papal blessing – not for me, but for some colleagues to whom I know they will be precious.

Pope Benedict XVI

Priest in St Peters Square at sunset.

Julia on Twitter.

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